Gayle Bluemel: Principal, Dramatist, Musician

Jan 11, 2010

Now the beloved principal of the Sierra Madre School, Gayle Bluemel has been a PUSD educator for more than 30 years. For even longer, she has been in love with the theater. Fortunately for her and her students, these pursuits have dovetailed often, leading to classroom after classroom—and now a whole school—saturated with the spirit of the performing arts. Writing, directing, teaching: three of a kind. Along the way, she has managed to found a musical theater workshop and, oh yeah, play in a band. During a brief intermission from all this drama, Ms. Bluemel answered some questions for Hometown Pasadena about the path she’s walked and Pasadena’s merits as an arts town.

Your training was originally in theater. How and when did you make the transition to education? Was teaching something you had always thought about doing?

My high school drama teacher must have seen something in me, because he asked me to be student director for the annual variety show. Before that time, I had always performed in the high school shows, but had never taken on the role of director. I found that it was a perfect fit! I loved to be in charge and the other kids seemed to respond to me. Later, after I completed my BA in drama, I found that my love for both teaching and the theatre would continue to be an asset. Over the years, I have found a way to combine the arts in whatever teaching assignment I have had.

What was your path to becoming principal like? Arts faculty don’t usually seem like the types to wind up in administrative roles.

I have been an educator in PUSD since 1973, so I have had so many varied opportunities. I was a regular classroom teacher for a long time, in every grade from first through sixth. And so performing arts were always an important part of my classroom curriculum. I always found a way to conduct the chorus for every school to which I was assigned. I also was a traveling music teacher for a while, visiting a couple of schools a week, bringing vocal music instruction to elementary kids and a performing arts teacher at the middle school level. I landed at Sierra Madre School in 1990 and worked my way through, from a first grade classroom teacher, to curriculum resource teacher, to assistant principal, and now as principal. I have found administration to be a comfortable place for me, because both sides of my brain seem to work. As an artist, I am open to creative process and community, and as an educator, I see the value of balance, hard work and organization.

How did the Pasadena Musical Theatre Program come into being? Are you still involved in it?

I created the PUSD Gifted and Talented Musical Theatre Workshop in 1995 as a collaborative project for me and my son and daughter, who were preteens, at the time and I directed the Summer and Saturday program for nine years. Since that time, Ryan Scott Oliver and my daughter Emily Clark (both alumni of the program) have taken over the directorial duties, and Cynthia Abbott, performing arts teacher at Washington Middle School, has continued as musical director. I am very proud of the program, and am so proud of the students who have participated and who have maintained lifelong friendships that were nurtured through their participation over the years.

I actually caught the SMS Holiday Show, and was surprised at how contemporary many of the performances were; hearing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was an outright shock. Are SMS performances always so forward-looking? How involved were you in the planning of the show, beyond your marvelous piano playing?

I have been so lucky to be able to surround myself with young, passionate arts educators as colleagues. At Sierra Madre School we have Tina Ogron and Kim Sibbrel, dance specialists (who also happen to teach fourth and fifth grade), as well as Amy McLean, instrumental music teacher, and my daughter Emily (performing arts specialist at the middle-school level). Each year, I have been able to give over a little more of the creative, performing-arts process over to my wonderful colleagues. They have my support in development, in rehearsals as needed, and of course, at the keyboard!

What do you think of Pasadena as a performing arts town? Do you ever make it to the Sierra Madre Playhouse?

I am thrilled to be a member of the Pasadena community as we are so fortunate to have world-class arts opportunities in our own backyard. I enjoy the museums and the Pasadena Playhouse. I am also a member of a band called the Late Bloomers (with my husband, Dan Ames, and two other great musicians, Ross Johnsen and Scott Shepherd), and we perform folk rock occasionally at the Coffee Gallery Backstage (an Altadena treasure) as well as other venues. We also get a chance to play for the city of Sierra Madre summer concert series in the park.

What’s your favorite musical?

I love anything Sondheim!!!!

5 Responses for “Gayle Bluemel: Principal, Dramatist, Musician”

  1. Altadenablog says:

    A great interview with my childrens’ very own principal – one of the reasons we’re glad they’re going to Sierra Madre Elementary! Now, if she could only do something creative about the Sunday robot phone call to all parents …

  2. Justus Bradshaw says:

    Thank you so much to Gayle for creating the Pasadena Musical Theater Program. My family have been involved with the program under the direction of Ryan Scott Oliver and Emily Scott since 2006. My sons look forward to any opportunity they get to work with these 2 wonderful and talented people. Pasadena’s Musical Theater program is second to none and Gayle is a big reason. Thanks again Gayle!!!

  3. Shelia says:

    Let’s not forget the PUSD kids who did not “qualify” to participate in the GATE (Gifted and Talented Musical Theatre Workshop) but who were accepted into PUSD’s Non-Gate Musical Theatre Summer Workshop, which also began about 1995. My two children enjoyed this Non-Gate Theater Arts Program so much, and for four summers in a row! The shows (Johnny Appleseed, Steamboatin’, Annie, Dragon Tale – to name a few) were fully staged productions with professional costumes, sets, lighting, etc. and performed on stage at Pasadena High School Auditorium. Now, both college graduates, my two children continue to remind my husband and I about how much fun they had while performing, and what it taught them about real life.

  4. […] began as a fake fire drill) to say goodbye to retiring principal Gayle Bluemel, who we profiled right here on Hometown Pasadena. To say she is adored by the community is an understatement, and if you want […]

  5. […] local kids from Pasadena, Altadena and Sierra Madre. Founded in 1995, by local education favorite Gayle Bluemel, the PMTP is a nonprofit musical theatre training program committed to bringing the highest quality […]



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